L’ete Indienne

October 9, 2011

Had a balky internet server yesterday that kept me from posting on Sunday (as is my wont). Or maybe I should blame it on the balmy weather. Yes, folks, it’s October, but you could hardly tell it from being outdoors. And outdoors is where anyone should be on a Sunday afternoon like yesterday. Like last week in Berlin, it was a day for basking and ambling thoughtlessly, though unlike last week in Berlin, I was able to both bask and amble. Which I did.

According to Wikipedia, the term “Indian Summer” appears first in the writings of John Hector St. John de Crèvecœur, who was describing the North American climate for a European audience. A contemporary of Thomas Jefferson, de Crèvecœur was the author of Letters from an American Farmer, a work that gets a passing reference in my own book, The Agrarian Vision. He was one of the first authors to write down the thought that the North American landscape was especially well suited to a particular style of farming that was conducive to egalitarian polities rich in liberty and self-reliance.

de Crèvecœur farmed in what is now New York State. The hills and valleys there frustrated attempts to effect centrally-organized and bureaucratically managed farming systems such as had been characteristic of Egypt or China. The climate was neither so mean as to preclude a harvest sufficient for both sustaining the local populace and the gradual accumulation of wealth, nor so forgiving as to make industriousness and careful management unnecessary. These observations were the premise for an argument that American farmers are more likely to develop the virtues needed for governance of a republic.

Also according to Wikipedia, the term Indian summer “is also used metaphorically to refer to a late blooming of something, often unexpectedly, or after it has lost relevance.” Whoa! Déjà vu all over again, as the great French yogi Monsieur Berrá once commented. Too late, too late we attend the agrarian message. Is the farm de Crèvecœur celebrated one of those places that do not exist?

And speaking of balky servers that arrive too late, who among us hasn’t waited in vain for the waitperson to come back with your creditcard so that you can sign the chit and make haste for greener pastures? Or show up with the chit (in the first place)? Or to bring the food? Or to show up with drinks so we can order the food? Or to show up with the freakin’ menu (in the first place)?

Indeed my friends, our food habits are hardly those of de Crèvecœur. Nonetheless, in the words of the great French yogi Monsieur Van Morrisón

Won’t you meet me
In the Indian summer
Well before
Those chilly winds do blow
Won’t you meet me
In the Indian summer
Take me way back
To what I know

Oh won’t you meet me
In the Indian summer
We’ll go walking
By the weeping willow tree
Oh won’t you meet me
In the Indian summer
We’ll go walking to eternity

Paul B. Thompson holds the W. K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University

 

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